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Lean on Me

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
by Matthew Iaboni

February 13, 2006

(TORONTO) -- The Toronto Maple Leafs top two defencemen Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle have had great seasons and for that they are being rewarded by playing in the Olympics.

Early in the season, head coach Pat Quinn teamed Kaberle and Bryan McCabe in all aspects of the game. The chemistry that the two had was evident right from the start. McCabe was the tough physical defenceman with the booming point shot. Kaberle was the smooth skating, pass first defenceman.

They were the perfect combo.

McCabe realizes that his partner has a lot to do with his success.

McCabe has done a lot of celebrating this season.
(Getty Images/NHLI)

"He certainly makes me look good out there on the power play," McCabe said. "He's such a great passer that he seems to find all the holes and the puck's always in the right spot and I've been able to benefit from that."

As for his game what does he think is the biggest reason for his strong season?

"With more ice time, comes more confidence," he said. "Obviously the coaching staff shows a lot of confidence in me putting me out there in those situations. But just to find a home here and be here for six years, your game certainly gets to grow when you stay in one spot for a while."

Quinn's confidence in his two star defencemen has showed, both playing upwards of 28 minutes a night and most of the time ending up well over the 30-minute mark.

They've stay out for duration of most two-minute power plays and it has worked out extremely well. McCabe started the season on a scoring tear. Kaberle made perfect passes and McCabe would blister it past the opposing netminder.

McCabe leads the Maple Leafs in scoring, is the only defenceman in the NHL to lead his team in scoring, and if it wasn't for his groin injury that caused him to miss eight games, he would most likely be first among defencemen in points. At the break he was sitting third, one point back of Niklas Lidstrom and four back of league leader Lubomir Visnovsky.

While McCabe receives all the headlines for his goal scoring, Kaberle is third on the Leafs in scoring with 43 points, which puts him fifth in the NHL among blueliners.

How much the pair depend on one another was clear during McCabe nine-game absence on January.

Kaberle struggled ... teams were able to key on him, taking away his space and the injury bug forced him into playing far too many minutes. He played more then 30 minutes on four occasions. His defensive zone struggles were evident by his minus-7 rating during those games.

Not surprisingly, the Leafs as a whole struggled without No. 24 in the lineup. The Leafs were 1-8 without him. The power play sputtered as the crew of young d-men were being forced into big minutes.

When McCabe did return to action, he and Kaberle were partnered together on a regular shift once again against Tampa Bay. McCabe played over 29 minutes while Kaberle played just over 30.

During the loss to the Washington Capitals on February 3, Ken Klee hurt his ankle and that forced Quinn to spread out the minutes between his top two pairings. Quinn couldn't afford to have McCabe and Kaberle as a tandem which would have left two-rookie defencemen to playing together.

What that allowed the coaching staff to do is pair McCabe with Jay Harrison and Kaberle with Andy Wozniewski.

Against New Jersey the very next night, McCabe played 26:14 including 2:48 on the power play. Kaberle on the other hand played 26:28, and also 2:48 on the power play.

The Leafs were going to be in an interesting spot this summer when McCabe and Kaberle became unrestricted free agents. Last Saturday, Kaberle signed a five-year contract extension with the team.

"Tomas represents a core part of our organization and we rely on him to play in all situations," said general manager John Ferguson. "Tomas figured to be one of the young premier free agents in the off-season and we are pleased that he is committed to being a big part of our future success."

While one of the Leafs top defencemen has been locked up, McCabe is next on Ferguson's to-do list.

"That would be our intention, certainly,'' Ferguson said. "They've both demonstrated their contributions to the club, they really drive the team. They're a real strong tandem for us. We've got a plan in place that includes (signing) them both.''

It's apparent that the Leafs realize they are much better when Kaberle and McCabe are both in the lineup.

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